NBA Power Rankings: Celtics hit a speed bump
BOSTON — When it comes to power rankings, the best teams are able to manage runs of success as well as stretches of not-so-great play.
Aside from the Milwaukee Bucks, just about every team in the NBA has strung together at least three or more consecutive losses, like the Celtics did last week. And with that trio of defeats, the Celtics have taken a slight step back in the standings behind the Miami Heat, who now have a slim ½-game lead over them for the No. 2 spot in the East.
Remember, it was only a week ago that the “What’s wrong with the Lakers” alarm was sounded when they lost four in a row, only for LeBron James and company to bounce back with wins in their last eight games. Indeed, the road to NBA success is a bumpy excursion that’s nearing the halfway point of its conclusion. And with each day drawing us all closer to its end, it also provides some much-needed clarity as to who will be among the last teams standing when all is said and done.
Here are the latest NBC Sports Boston Power Rankings full of teams looking to charge ahead and finish out the season with a strong surge in the second half of the season, whether that’s making a playoff push or better positioning themselves for a shot at the top overall pick in next June’s NBA draft.
(Games played through Jan. 12)
30. Atlanta Hawks (8-32)
Rank last week: 20
Trae Young continues to lead all Eastern Conference guards in All-Star fan voting, which is the only real positive the Hawks can take from a season that has been underwhelming on all levels thus far.
29. Golden State Warriors (9-32)
Rank last week: 28
The Warriors will begin this decade just like they did the last one — a team in the lottery with hopes of nabbing a big man.
28. New York Knicks (11-29)
Rank last week: 26
Marcus Morris is proof-positive that putting up strong numbers in a major market does little to nothing when it comes to enhancing your chances at being an All-Star.
27. Detroit Pistons (14-26)
Rank last week: 24
While most of the trade speculation surrounding Detroit has centered around Andre Drummond, Luke Kennard’s breakout season has put him on the radar for a number of playoff-caliber teams, too.
26. Washington Wizards (13-26)
Rank last week: 27
While they have shown no signs of being a threat to contend for a playoff spot, the Wizards' play has picked up of late with wins in three of their last four games.
25. Cleveland Cavaliers (12-27)
Rank last week: 22
The wins aren’t piling up like the Cavs want, but the backcourt pairing of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland is starting to take shape.
24. Sacramento Kings (15-24)
Rank last week: 29
One of the most injury-riddled teams in the NBA this season, the Kings’ postseason drought — 13 years and counting — looks like it’ll continue to live on for another season.
23. Minnesota Timberwolves (15-23)
Rank last week: 23
Eight of the Timberwolves' last 10 foes were sub-.500 teams, a span in which they went just 5-5 and shot a league-worst 40.2 percent from the field during that span.
22. New Orleans Pelicans (14-26)
Rank last week: 25
With wins in seven of their last 10 games, will the Pelicans keep rockin’ on with Zion Williamson’s imminent return, or will he rock the boat?
21. Charlotte Hornets (15-27)
Rank last week: 19
Points continue to be hard to come by for the Hornets, who rank dead-last in the NBA in points scored in the third (25.4) and fourth (24.8) quarters of games this season.
20. Portland Trail Blazers (16-24)
Rank last week: 20
The Blazers have been a dumpster fire this season, which is why they will be among the more talked-about trade partners between now and the Feb. 6 trade deadline.
19. Chicago Bulls (14-26)
Rank last week: 15
Free throw shooting has been among the many issues impacting the Bulls this season, getting to the line a league-low 17.7 times in the last 10 games.
18. Phoenix Suns (16-23)
Rank last week: 21
Getting second-chance points has been a first-rate problem for the Suns this season. Their 12.1 second-chance points per game average ranks 25th in the NBA.
17. San Antonio Spurs (17-21)
Rank last week: 17
Winners in three of their last four games, the Spurs are starting to look more like the Spurs we have come to expect: a team that’s showing the potential to be a dangerous foe come playoff time.
16. Brooklyn Nets (18-20)
Rank last week: 16
Kyrie Irving’s back, looking as though the time off did his body and his shooting touch (21 points on 10-for-11 shooting in win over Atlanta) a world of good.
15. Memphis Grizzlies (18-22)
Rank last week: 18
While Ja Morant is praised for his play that has the Grizzlies in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race, rookie head coach Taylor Jenkins has to be given some serious consideration as a Coach of the Year candidate.
14. Orlando Magic (18-21)
Rank last week: 14
The Magic have applied for disabled player-exceptions for both Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu, a clear indication that they’re not expecting either player to return this season and with that, likely setting into motion what’ll be another trip to the NBA lottery.
13. Houston Rockets (26-12)
Rank last week: 11
James Harden recently surpassed the 20,000-point mark on the same night he turned the ball over 11 times … in the first half. That is James Harden in a nutshell; he scoreth and giveth (the ball) away.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (22-17)
Rank last week: 12
It was a good week for the Thunder. They showed a lot of love to Mr. Thunder, Russell Westbrook in his return to O-K-C, and then went out and beat his new team, the Houston Rockets, like a drum.
11. Indiana Pacers (24-15)
Rank last week: 10
Victor Oladipo’s anticipated Jan. 29 return sets the clock in motion for what’s likely to be a midseason surge for an Indiana team that has been overachieving with its best player sidelined.
10. Dallas Mavericks (24-15)
Rank last week: 8
The Mavericks don’t have great size, but they do a great job of crashing the boards which has allowed them to average 14.7 second-chance points per game, which ranks third in the NBA.
9. Toronto Raptors (25-14)
Rank last week: 9
The Raptors have been able to stay within striking distance pretty much every time they step on the court with a defense that’s allowing a league-low 37.9 made field goals per game.
7. Philadelphia 76ers (25-15)
Rank last week: 13
The absence of Joel Embiid has unleashed “Good” Al Horford. Finding a way to blend what he’s doing now with Embiid’s game upon his return, will be the biggest challenge facing a team that’s talented enough to get to the NBA Finals.
6. Los Angeles Clippers (27-13)
Rank last week: 5
The Clippers are one of six teams out West with a winning road record. That lofty status will be put to the test with seven of their next nine games away from the Staples Center.
5. Denver Nuggets (27-12)
Rank last week: 3
Bad home loss to Cleveland for sure, but looking at the big picture — 12 wins in their last 16 games — it’s clear that the Nuggets are playing their best basketball of the season right now.
4. Miami Heat (27-12)
Rank last week: 4
Jimmy Butler may have gotten the better of T.J. Warren after their brouhaha last week, but since then the Heat (0-2) haven’t won a game. And the Pacers? Their lone game since then, ended with an Indiana victory.
3. Utah Jazz (27-12)
Rank last week: 7
The hottest team in the NBA, the Jazz are riding the longest current winning streak in the NBA which stands at 10 … and counting.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (32-7)
Rank last week: 2
Figuring out ways to win without LeBron James and Anthony Davis speaks to the growth that this Lakers team is undergoing right now.
1. Milwaukee Bucks (35-6)
Rank last week: 1
Consistent with their play and its impact on winning, the Bucks have yet to lose back-to-back games this season.